California’s new transitional kindergarten hits a budget snag

01.26.2012 | San Jose Mercury News | Carol Rosen

San Jose school districts are nearly ready to meet a 2010 law mandating
a transitional kindergarten beginning this fall. In the meantime, they
are waiting to see if the Legislature will pass a proposal that will
effectively terminate the law before it starts.

The Kindergarten
Readiness Act mandates that children whose fifth birthdays occur from
Sept. 2 through the end of November are eligible to attend a public
transitional kindergarten to prepare them for school. It pushes back the
kindergarten start age to children who turn 5 before Sept. 2. The
program is designed for implementation over the next three school years,
beginning this year with children who turn 5 in November.

early January, Gov. Jerry Brown announced his budget, while pulling the
trigger to remove a large number of childcare slots. He proposed
eliminating transitional kindergarten to save the state about $223
million. However, the Legislature hasn’t passed the proposal, and many
are hoping that it won’t happen.

“It’s hard to know at this point
what will happen,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, who sponsored the
measure that was signed into law two years ago. “If there’s no action by
the Legislature, then the [Kindergarten Readiness Act] will continue to
be the law.

The plan is to phase the program in over a three-year
period. However, a number of districts are looking to begin the entire
program this year, taking all 4 ½-year-olds whose birthdays are from September through November into a kindergarten readiness program at no cost to the state.

Jose Unified will proceed with its plans unless school officials find
out the law has been superseded, said Jodie Lax, the school district’s
manager of curriculum, instruction and English language services for
pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. So far the district is
interviewing teachers, reviewing curriculum, deciding what the day will
look like and determining outcome expectations, she said.

ready to offer a quality program. Every department in the district has
been planning and preparing,” Lax said. The program will be offered at
15 of the district’s 27 elementary schools.

Cambrian School
District also is continuing its plans for transitional kindergarten,
said Lani Potts, the district’s assistant superintendent.

planning is far into the works, even though we aren’t confident of what
the state’s outcome will be,” Potts said. “We’re moving forward, but we
need to have Plan B, which will depend on the budget and overall

Cambrian is planning to offer the new class at all four of its elementary schools.

original plan is to offer a class at each elementary school depending
on the number of children that will attend. It will work out better for
the children if they start at one school and remain there for their
remaining elementary grades,” Potts said.

The district’s program
will mirror its regular kindergarten, she added. It will be five days a
week, with three schools offering half-day classes. One school, Farnum,
is planning an all-day transitional kindergarten.

The Union
District also is well into planning, but is putting its program on hold
pending state funding decisions, said Jackie Horejs, superintendent.

“If the Legislature rescinds the mandate, then we won’t be able to offer a TK,” she said.

the Legislature does approve the Governor’s proposal, districts can
still offer a special class to students whose fifth birthdays fall in
September and October via a continuation form. If the parents sign the
form, it allows their children to have an extra year of kindergarten and
enables the district to access average daily attendance money when the
children turn 5. This would work for children whose birthdays are in
September and October, but not for those in November.

The average
daily attendance money the state pays schools for each child attending
would pay for transitional kindergarten, school officials and Simitian
said. It also, according to several school officials, would allow
children to be in classes with their peers rather than being the
youngest and often the smallest and slowest members of the class.

children start school without being ready socially or intellectually,
they are sometimes forced to be held back for an additional year of

According to Simitian’s staff and to local
educators, the results of the governor’s proposal would displace about
125,000 students born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 from the public K-12
system. Of that number, 60 percent would be attending Title 1 schools
and 40 percent are English language learners.

Districts also
would lose about $100 million for special education services, and some
smaller districts would lose ADA funding, but may not be able to
eliminate classes or lay off teachers.

Losing the program would
have a negative impact on families forced to pay for an additional year
of childcare or preschool, about $6,000 for part-time day care and
$15,000 for a full day. In some cases, parents can’t afford that tuition
and will have to take a year off their jobs.

The state’s
preschool program has 83,000 children on a waiting list, and the
governor’s proposal would eliminate 71,000 childcare slots.

also has noted that children who are not prepared for kindergarten—
which 10 years ago was the same curriculum as first grade—don’t do as
well in school.

The vote on higher taxes is planned for November,
and if the tax is approved, transitional kindergarten will get the
go-ahead. The problem is that schools need to plan now for transitional
kindergarten, slated to start in late August and early September.

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